5 technology challenges facing hospitals today — 1 way to alleviate the burden

EHR adoption is nearly universal among acute-care hospitals in the U.S. However, hospitals still struggle to adopt these systems in a way that meets regulatory mandates and clinicians' expectations, leaving little time to manage the remainder of a facility's technologies. In mid-September, one Canon executive shared a potential solution with a room full of hospital leaders.

This content is sponsored by Canon USA

At Becker's Hospital Review 4th Annual Health IT + Revenue Cycle Conference in Chicago, Canon — which manufacturers medical equipment and office solutions — convened a roundtable discussion with more than 20 healthcare C-suite executives, vice presidents and division directors to assess what major technology challenges hospital leaders face today, and what improvements they want to see.

"If we don't do something to address your needs, we don't have a business in healthcare," said Randal Kendrix, a healthcare business development manager at Canon USA, during the event. "If we don't listen to our customers, we'll just go out of business."

Here are five of the top technology challenges healthcare leaders shared during the roundtable discussion, and one solution suggested by Mr. Kendrix:

1. Interoperability. Interoperability, or the ability for different software systems to exchange data with one another, is a major challenge for hospitals today. In fact, the majority of physicians agreed making the EHR more interoperable is a top improvement they want to see at their facility, according to a recent survey from Deloitte.

One director of IT in attendance described interacting with the EHR as a particularly time-consuming activity at her facility, an academic health system in the Mid-Atlantic. To input data from external devices, nurses must manually enter the information into the EHR. The facility is still struggling to develop a process to export actionable data.

"We can get data into the EHR," she explained. "But pulling it out in a way that's usable and flexible is a challenge. And everybody wants to use this data now, from bedside nurses to physicians — but it's not easy to pull it out in a usable format."

2. Upkeep of old technology. Often, hospitals already have technology products that work well and have been integrated into the facility's workflow over the course of several years. However, as time goes on, the original vendor may no longer support the product — this might mean the vendor no longer sells the tool or no longer develops patches for it.

"The standard answer when a manufacturer comes in, and you ask, 'Can we incorporate this older — but still good — equipment with the new?' is 'No, that just won't work,'" Mr. Kendrix explained. "They want you to buy all new equipment."

This poses an issue for hospital leaders who must learn to support these products themselves or invest in capital expenses for new tools. Beyond the cost of purchasing a new product, a hospital must also set aside resources for training and acclimating staff to the new tool, since a transition away from an existing product might disrupt the clinical workflow.

3. Physician adoption. Technology challenges aren't just about the systems themselves. Attendees expressed frustration with clinicians who balked at using new tools, such as the EHR, or who didn't understand new features after a system was updated. "You can implement the most modern systems in the world, but if you can't get your users to adopt that process, you're going to hurt," said the president and CEO of a skilled nursing facility on the West Coast.

As an example, she shared how her organization implemented an EHR — but since physicians continue to prefer manual entry and paper records, it hasn't truly become paperless yet. Beyond physician adoption, another attendee expressed concerns related to ongoing physician training, as software interfaces and regulatory requirements change.

"One of the struggles we have with EHRs is ongoing training," said the IT manager of a 26-bed hospital in the South. "When there's a flash change by the EHR vendor … It creates a workflow stoppage, or even a regulatory problem if the government requires something that we haven't been documenting."

4. Asset tracking. Many EHRs sell tools to keep tabs on hospital equipment, from printers to wheelchairs, so the facility doesn't lose track of its products. However, very few hospitals have truly comprehensive asset-tracking solutions in place, according to Mr. Kendrix. "They all have software, barcodes, tags, but if you ask for a report that says, 'How many of 'X' do we have?' it doesn't exist," he said.

Mr. Kendrix suggested hospitals partner with Canon, which uses software and assigns personnel to track various types of equipment throughout a facility under its Assurance 360 program. "The desire is to take that burden off of you, and put it solely on what we do best," he said. "Anything we can physically put [a tracker] on, we can manage."

5. The overarching challenge. Today's hospital IT leaders are so overwhelmed with foundational technological challenges, such as interoperability and asset tracking, that they don't have time to investigate new trends — they don't have the bandwidth for artificial intelligence, advanced analytics or other emerging tools that might save time or money.

"It might be the coolest product in the world, but I've got no time for it," said the director of revenue cycle at a community hospital in the Midwest. "My team and the IT team are busy either doing [EHR] implementations, or upgrades or patches. [EHRs] just suck organizational bandwidth up, so it's hard to get other priorities done."

To free up hospital leaders' time — which is increasingly filled with these types of foundational IT projects — Mr. Kendrix highlighted how Canon's Assurance 360 program alleviates the burden of managing office and hardware technologies.

Through the program Canon manages a hospital's office and hardware products, first conducting a thorough assessment of the facility's devices and then creating a plan to contain costs — including taking on time-consuming tasks like asset tracking and end-of-life product management. If the company proves its plan is successful, it will replace the hospital's existing products with equivalent options from Canon — for example, its scanners or tracking devices. Canon will then manage all the installations, training and upkeep for these devices.

"That's all on us," Mr. Kendrix said. "It's taking that off your plate and putting it on ours."

To learn more about Canon's healthcare offerings, click here.

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